This blog was originally published for Metromode on October 9, 2009.
In the last post, prompted by the multitude of questions about why I chose to open in Detroit, I addressed the issue of place and the role it plays in the conception of my business. This time, I'm going to tackle the other question that comes up when I tell people what I do for a living: How does a small bookstore survive?
This question, of course, touches on the broader issue of how any small retailer can survive in an era where big box stores and malls dominate the landscape. Walking into one of these rectangular palaces, one feels intuitively that this place will have every book (or cooking utensil, cleaning supply, or whatever else it sells) one has ever heard of. How could a little spot like mine ever hope to compete?
The solution can be found in the sacrifices these places make in order to maintain their warehouse-like collections. Let's look at my business, bookselling, for insight into what I mean. Gigantic bookstores, in my opinion, are some of the worst places to browse. They are very good at having exactly the book you came in looking for, which is why they're designed with library-like efficiency. If you've got a title or author in mind before you even walk through the doors, you can make a beeline straight for the right section and you’ll be checking out in no time.
This blog was originally published for Metromode on October 8, 2009.
I'm pretty certain that anyone who has opened a small business has faced down the specters of cynicism and doubt, the lingering shades hiding in every daydream fantasy of what things might be like. The images of empty storefronts and zeroes in the books, I think, are natural and frequently productive. How else, after all, are you going to prepare for the worst?
But when I started talking to people about my plan to open a bookstore in Detroit, those ghosts took on flesh. Nervous, caring faces wondered how I was going to compete – with the Internet, with the huge retail chains, with the economy. And why Detroit? How was I ever going to sell books in a place that can't find a corporate grocer to sell fresh produce? These were serious concerns, deserving serious attention, and I found it hard to explain my passion and my plans.